03 June 2022

52 for '22: Baahubali: The Beginning

Movie: Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)
Method: Netflix Streaming

Riders of Rohan! To Meeee!

Why Did I watch this?

Listen folks, I know. This is getting weirder and weirder and we've gone off the beaten path quite a bit into some films that weren't in our original line-up. There are a lot of reasons for that, but we've decided to take a full dip into Bollywood. I watched RRR (2022) after seeing it on Twitter and then stumbling on it as the #6 film on Netflix this week and when I looked it up I saw that it was among some of India's highest grossing films. RRR, by the way, is spectacular and I highly STRONGLY recommend a viewing! But the same director, SS Rajamouli directed even bigger Indian films, the Baahubali series. Obviously we had to watch those, and it works as part of this posting series!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew it was a big Indian blockbuster movie, relatively recent, which means likely dodgy CGI. I knew it was an epic long movie, so probably a historical film, although to be honest, Bollywood films can spend three hours dancing in a romantic comedy movie, so hard to tell exactly. I really didn't know too much except that I liked the director from RRR and it was a big time Indian film.

How Was It?

So, to be fair, this is only the first part. I'll watch Baahubali: The Conclusion (2016) tonight and let you know how that goes maybe, but it does end on a dedicated cliffhanger. So it's hard to judge the exact story as a whole. But I really liked what I saw.

And I'm going to tell you right now, I am going to make zero effort in remembering anyone's name. I barely refer to Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun: Maverick (2022) as anyone other than Tom Cruise. so, let's roll with this.

The film jumps in it right away, with a mother protecting her baby from dudes with swords, and then getting caught in a river, but praying to Shiva to save her son. The son grows up in a small river village next to a giant mountain that he is forbidden to climb, but oh what a rascal, he grows up and climbs it anyway! At the top he finds a whole other Kingdom, finds out he might be heir to the throne and then hilarity ensues.

It is both refreshing and odd to dive into Indian versions of blockbuster epics. Yes, the CGI is dodgy as hell. But it's also stunningly creative. The story isn't all that innovative, it's basically some version of Hamlet, but there are also twists and turns as you find out who exactly is related to whom and whose kingdom is up for grabs. It was really engrossing for a two and a half hour epic in a language I didn't understand.

There is this sincere fantastical element, too. Rajamouli in RRR made his historical figures into straight up superheroes, and the same goes for this movie. The eponymous Baahubali can hoist himself up waterfalls and fire precise arrows and swords, and his counterpoint, the evil kick can punch bulls and throw soldiers for yards. It's all played straight, though. And there's singing of every plot point. You couldn't do this kind of stuff in an American blockbuster, we're too literal, too cynical, and too snarky. There is a real earnestness to the filmmaking here that I appreciated.

I really just kept thinking about what would happen if Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr kept breaking into song during CIVIL WAR (2016). That's basically what you got here. This doesn't have the REAL big typical dance scenes, but there are enough big singing breaks to have a good time.

One is maybe the most problematic scene I've ever seen in a movie. And I mean that in the proper way, it's not like an outright awful horror-filling scene, but...assuredly problematic. We're introduced to a badass lady warrior at the top of this mountain, who Baahubali draws henna on without her consent while she's sleeping with her hand in the water. He then distracts her with a snake while drawing on her shoulder. There is a surprising amount of unconsensual drawing. And it almost costs her her job!

Then he woos her and rips her clothes off while dancing, pushes her under a waterfall, and even puts make-up on her. Then they bang. It's a straight up taming of a wild wonderful warrior woman into a beautiful elegant flower wife. And she's into it. It's so damn weird. It's not really Mask of Zorro (1998) level sexy dress cutting, more like an 80s transformation montage that the dude is imposing on the woman. It's....pretty rough.

Towards the last third of this film it just becomes a completely different movie, and I mean this very literally. Kattappa the slave tells an extended flashback of Baahubali's father and the current evil King and how they were trained together and had to prove their valor in competition and war against, okay, let's again call them a problematically depicted group of darker, more savage Indians (picture somewhere on the level of King Kong [2005]'s generic natives) in order to be named the next king. This is really where the film earns its epicness, and the shots and strategy of a massive war are actually really cool. It goes into depth of minute by minute action and reaction on a grand scale and earns every moment it delivers.

The flashback is constructed almost as its own little mini-movie, and something that again, you'd just never see in an American blockbuster. This film takes incredibly bold swings and risks (or maybe it doesn't and just doesn't have the pressure or precedence of a western film to live up to). It's really fun and really weird.

The film steeps itself in myth and mirth, and I did immensely enjoy it. RRR works better as a straight action film and historical film, but jeez, it's hard for any film to compete with that. This is a true historical epic and I'd recommend for anyone trying to get into Bollywood.

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